Festival Ballet Providence's second Up Close on Hope series this season began last weekend and continues February 24-25 and March 2-3. In the company's 90-seat Black Box Theater, performances are so close you can almost hear the dancers' breath; you can definitely see the hard work that goes into their movements.
A ‘NUDE DUET’ Festival Ballet’s Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys.
The proximity also allows you to notice and appreciate aspects of the dances you might not see in a bigger venue. If three couples are doing the same steps and the same partnering, what differences emerge? Similarly, if two dancers are doing the same or mirror-image movements, how does each bring his or her own style to it?
The first is evident in the premiere of company member Leticia Guerrero's Yo no se si eres para mi. It is set to the throbbing, pounding music of Vangelis that, along with the fiery red leotards, creates an urgent emotional undercurrent. Though the six dancers have several sequences in sync with each other, each couple has its own mini-drama portrayed in movement: from harsh to tender, from tentative to demanding. With limbs twined in unusual pairings, they form expressive and ever-shifting friezes.
Two of Festival's principal dancers, Jennifer Ricci and Leticia Guerrero, offer those side-by-side comparisons in company member Mark Harootian's Set It Up Right, set to the Vitamin String Quartet's take on songs by Lady Gaga. Harootian is nothing if not eclectic, often inspired by contemporary music for his ballet pieces, and this is no exception: hints of hip-hop — languorous hip swivels and arms sweeping over heads — meld with graceful turns in toe shoes for a dance that is hypnotically beautiful.
The other two pieces with gripping content are R/J, by dancer/choreographer George Birkadze (currently with the Sarasota Ballet) and Short stories for small magazine, by Viktor Plotnikov (previously at Boston Ballet, he won two international choreography awards in 2007). Birkadze set his Romeo and Juliet impressions to a yearning, soulful score by Dmitri Shostakovich. The sequences are like flashbacks, after Romeo finds Juliet in the crypt, and there's a melancholy about both characters, an aching sadness in their gestures, as they recall their short time together from bed to bier.
Plotnikov's title cues us to its six scenes, set variously to Yann Tiersen and Les Tambours Du Bronx and each introduced by the tap, tap, tap of a typewriter. Les Tambours' mesmerizing drumming drives a short piece about four factory workers. The first "story" is a portrait of a family going about daily activities; another is a drunken fight over a woman who remains passive but provokes their rage; yet another uses rhythmic clapping to set up a schoolboy scene: two boys try to outdo each other but also tussle, in a delightful romp, ending with a music box tinkling.
The two most intense "stories" concern a lovely "nude duet" (in flesh-colored leotard and trunks) between Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys, which conveys the lovers' initial hesitancy in pursuing their passions but also their relief at giving in to them. The other is also a duet, between two women (Putrius and Leticia Guerrero), who are grieving for their husbands, gone off to war. Their dresses, ankle-length stretchy fabric, and their bent-knee stance that pulls that fabric taut, reference Martha Graham's famous Lamentation, with evocative variations from Plotnikov.